Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Language Skills and Gendered God Talk

I am part of the group that is doing worship planning/service creating for our upcoming Synod Assembly.  We are meeting via Zoom, but the Assembly will be held in person.  However, it won't be the same kind of Assembly--there won't be displays or a prayer chapel or musical groups that will move us between segments.  We will minimize the singing during worship.

I might ask why we are bothering to assemble in person at all, and as we plan, we are aware that much can change between now and the mid-September week-end of the Synod Assembly.  I have my eyes on that new Delta variant, and I'm trying not to revert to my Cassandra self, forecasting doom.  And then there's the issue of all the money that gets spent on an in-person Assembly.  But these are not the topics I want to write about today.

Yesterday a group of us met on Zoom to look at the worship services that were created for last year's cancelled Assembly.  Our goal was to see what we could still use, and the happy news is that much of it was still workable.  We had a lot of language about significant anniversaries like the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women that we will take out.

We talked about the music, about who will be singing/playing and when, and about the settings we will use.  I felt my usual stab of envy--how I wish that music came effortlessly to me.  I come from a family of musicians, so I know that nothing is effortless.  Their capacity with music comes from many years of practice, practice, practice.

We needed someone to rewrite the petitions for the prayers, and I volunteered.  And then again, when we looked at the closing service, I volunteered for another writing task.  The leader said, "You'll be our wordsmith."  He said it in a way that made me feel valued.

And then I realized that I was once again assuming that everyone has the same kind of skills that I do, and thus, I tend to undervalue the talents I do have while wishing for talents I haven't developed.  I forget how intimidating writing prayers can be.  

As we were looking at the worship services, I found myself getting irritated at all the Father God language.  I thought, wait, I'm on the worship planning team.  Speak up!  And so, I raised my hand.

I said, "I've been at Synod Assemblies for years, and I'm always irritated by this gendered language of God.  I prefer God the Creator, but if we must have Father God language, could we also make reference to God our Mother?"

Let me stress that I am not some wild-eyed Gen Y kiddo.  I am about to turn 56 years old, and I am surprised to still have to be making this request decades after my fellow feminists first started advocating for inclusive language when it comes to God talk.  My fellow worship planners looked to be about my age or maybe 10 years older, and yesterday, I was the only female on the call.

I expected to be shot down; I was prepared to argue my point further, but I didn't need to.  Happily, my suggestions found agreement or at least no one voiced disagreement.  Our leader said, "Sure we can do that.  I'll make a note to change to expansive language when it comes to God."


I think that most worshippers will not notice the absence of the gendered language of God.  A reference to Creator God gives people the space to think of that God as a father or a mother or of their favorite art teacher.  Those of us who notice gendered language will appreciate the absence of Father God, and those who need that language will still get it when we use the Lord's Prayer.  I won't fight that battle when it comes to the Lord's Prayer or the creeds, but for the prayers we're writing, we can make the language more inclusive.

In later years, maybe we'll finally live into the call to be all inclusive; maybe the larger church will rewrite the creeds and the Lord's Prayer.  And I expect that in later years, some young whippersnapper who can't be a day over 56 will let me know how my own notions of expansiveness are so very 2020's.

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